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US confrontation with Iran

Project: US Confrontation with Iran
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Newt Gingrich.Newt Gingrich. [Source: Public domain]Former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich says that the US should sabotage Iran’s gasoline refinery as part of its efforts to bring down the Iranian government. Gingrich also is harshly critical of the Bush administration for its failure to deal more strongly with Iraq, saying, “I can’t imagine why they put up with this. I mean, either General Petraeus is wrong and the military spokesman’s wrong, or the current policies we have are stunningly ineffective.” He then gives his own prescription for regime change in Iran: “We should finance the students. We should finance a Radio Free Iran. We should covertly sabotage the only gasoline refinery in the country. We should be prepared, once the gasoline refinery is down, to stop all of the gasoline tankers and communicate to the Iranian government that if they want to move equipment into Iran—into Iraq, they’re going to have to walk.” Gingrich adds, “I think we are currently so timid and our bureaucracies are so risk-avoiding—it took enormous leadership by President Reagan and by Bill Casey to reenergize the CIA in the early ‘80s. And we’ve now been through a long period of beating up the intelligence community and having lawyers say, You can’t do this, you can’t do that.” [Fox News, 9/25/2007]

Entity Tags: Newt Gingrich, Fox News

Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence

Category Tags: Opposition Groups, Oil and Gas, Neoconservative Hawks

The Washington Post’s editorial page, headed by Fred Hiatt, denounces Iran’s “race for a bomb,” writing: “[T]he danger is growing that the United States and its allies could face a choice between allowing Iran to acquire the capacity to build a nuclear weapon and going to war to prevent it. The only way to avoid facing that terrible decision is effective diplomacy—that is, a mix of sanctions and incentives that will induce [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad’s superiors to suspend their race for a bomb.… Even if [Iran] provides satisfactory answers, its uranium enrichment—and thus its progress toward a bomb—will continue. That doesn’t trouble [the IAEA’s Mohamed] ElBaradei, who hasn’t hidden his view that the world should stop trying to prevent Iran from enriching uranium and should concentrate instead on blocking US military action… European diplomats say they are worried that escalating tensions between the United States and Iran, if fueled by more sanctions, could lead to war. What they don’t make clear is how the government Mr. Ahmadinejad represents will be induced to change its policy if it has nothing to fear from the West.” [Editor & Publisher, 12/4/2007]

Entity Tags: Fred Hiatt, Washington Post, Mohamed ElBaradei, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Category Tags: Nuclear Program, US Intel on Iran, Neoconservative Hawks

NBC correspondent Howard Fineman says that the US intelligence community will release “three different reports” in upcoming weeks to “slow down” the administration’s push for war with Iran. Fineman says, “The intelligence community over the next few months is going to come out with three different reports on Iran about internal political problems of Iran, about the economy, and about their nuclear capability. Those are going to be key to decide what the Bush administration is going to do, and it’s the intelligence community I think trying to slow down what the president, most particularly the vice president, want to do in Iran.” [MSNBC, 10/7/2007] In fact, the intelligence community will release a National Intelligence Estimate in December that concludes Iran stopped working on a nuclear weapon in 2003, and is not a danger of having a nuclear weapon until at least 2013 (see December 3, 2007).

Entity Tags: Howard Fineman, Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: Nuclear Program, US Intel on Iran

Part of the White House’s $196 billion emergency funding request for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is $88 million for modifying B-2 stealth bombers to carry “Massive Ordnance Penetrator,” or bunker-busting, bombs. Many both in and out of government believe that the order has nothing to do with Iraq or Afghanistan, but is part of the Bush administration’s plans for attacking Iran. The 30,000-pound bombs, called MOPs, are the largest conventional bombs in the military’s arsenal, designed to penetrate up to 200 feet underground before exploding. The only explanation given in the White House’s budget request is that it comes in response to “an urgent operational need from theater commanders.” But no one at the Pentagon or the US Central Command has, so far, been able or willing to identify that need. Military experts say that there is no need for MOPs in Iraq. They could potentially be useful in Afghanistan to destroy Taliban or al-Qaeda hideouts in the mountainous, cave-riddled border area of Afghanistan and Pakistan, but there is no need to use stealth bombers to deploy such weapons. But MOPs are ideal for a strike at Iraq’s heavily fortified, deeply buried nuclear facility in Natanz. John Pike of Globalsecurity.org says, “You’d use it on Natanz. And you’d use it on a stealth bomber because you want it to be a surprise. And you put in an emergency funding request because you want to bomb quickly.” Pike says he does not fully understand the rationale behind the public funding request. “It’s kind of strange,” he says. “It sends a signal that you are preparing to bomb Iran, and if you were actually going to bomb Iran I wouldn’t think you would want to announce it like that.” [ABC News, 10/24/2007] The request for the bomber modifications comes simultaneously with one of Vice President Dick Cheney’s most belligerent challenges towards Iran (see October 21, 2007).

Entity Tags: John Pike, Bush administration (43), Globalsecurity.org, US Central Command, US Department of Defense, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Category Tags: Nuclear Program, Planning

George W. Bush warns that world leaders are risking World War III unless they work to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Bush makes his remarks at the White House, remarks timed to coincide with Russian president Vladimir Putin’s visit to Tehran. Russia has in recent weeks warned the US about moving too quickly towards a violent confrontation with Iran over its nuclear program; Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and other Bush officials have responded by escalating their rhetoric towards Iran (see October 21, 2007) and requesting funding for weapons that could be used against Iran’s nuclear facilities (see Mid-October, 2007). “We’ve got a leader in Iran who has announced that he wants to destroy Israel,” Bush says. “So I’ve told people that, if you’re interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon.” In fact, Putin and Russian officials have repeatedly said that Iran is not building nuclear weapons, Russia has pledged to continue helping Iran develop its nuclear power technology, and Russia has led a coalition of Caspian nations who vow to prevent the US from using that region to launch any attacks against Iran. [Daily Telegraph, 10/20/2007]

Entity Tags: Vladimir Putin, George W. Bush, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Category Tags: Nuclear Program, Calls for Overthrow

In some of his most challenging and belligerent statements yet on Iran, Vice President Dick Cheney says flatly that Iran will not be allowed to pursue its nuclear program. He dismisses Iran’s claims that its nuclear program is intended for peaceful use only, and accuses Iranian leaders of pursuing a practice of “delay and deception in an obvious effort to buy time.… Our country, and the entire international community, cannot stand by as a terror-supporting state fulfills its grandest ambitions. The Iranian regime needs to know that if it stays on its present course the international community is prepared to impose serious consequences.” Cheney does not specify what those “serious consequences” are, but many inside and outside the government believe that Cheney is signaling the administration’s intent to use military force against Iran before Cheney and President Bush leave office in January 2009. Michael O’Hanlon of the centrist Brookings Institution says, “That’s pretty firm, clear language. And it raises more clearly the specter of military action. That is much more than saying this isn’t just an option that we’ve taken off the table.” Cheney’s office says that his statements are in line with earlier statements that warn of possible military confrontations with Iran. In March 2006, he said, “We will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon.” In May 2007, he said, “We’ll stand with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating this region.” However, analysts say that the rhetoric from Cheney and Bush has recently escalated to a point where military action seems more likely than ever before. [ABC News, 10/21/2007]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Brookings Institution, Michael O’Hanlon, George W. Bush

Category Tags: Nuclear Program, Neoconservative Hawks

The Washington Post’s Richard Cohen writes: “Sadly, it is simply not possible to dismiss the Iranian threat. Not only is Iran proceeding with a nuclear program, but it projects a pugnacious, somewhat nutty, profile to the world.” [Editor & Publisher, 12/4/2007]

Entity Tags: Richard Cohen

Category Tags: Nuclear Program, US Intel on Iran

Russian President Vladimir Putin says, rhetorically, that the new US sanctions against Iran are the work of a “madman.” Responding to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s announcement of the harsh new sanctions, Putin asks, “Why worsen the situation and bring it to a dead end by threatening sanctions or military action? Running around like a madman with a razor blade, waving it around, is not the best way to resolve the situation.” Instead, Putin says, the standoff between Iran and the US needs to be resolved diplomatically. He points to the recent agreement over North Korea’s nuclear program as an example. “Not long ago it didn’t seem possible to resolve the situation with North Korea’s nuclear program, but we have practically solved it relying on peaceful means.” The US insists the sanctions are warranted by what they call Iran’s refusal to shelve its nuclear program, and its support of Islamist terrorism. Russia is providing critical assistance in the construction of Iran’s first nuclear power plant, and has actively opposed further UN sanctions against that nation. [Associated Press, 10/25/2007; Press Association Group, 10/26/2007]

Entity Tags: United Nations, Vladimir Putin, Condoleezza Rice

Category Tags: Geopolitics, Diplomacy, Nuclear Program

Neoconservative founder Norman Podhoretz, a senior foreign adviser to Republican presidential frontrunner Rudolph Giuliani, says the US has no other choice than to bomb Iran. Podhoretz says heavy and immediate strikes against Iran are necessary to prevent that country from developing nuclear weapons. “None of the alternatives to military action—negotiations, sanctions, provoking an internal insurrection—can possibly work,” Podhoretz says. “They’re all ways of evading the terrible choice we have to make which is to either let them get the bomb or to bomb them.” Podhoretz says that such strikes would be effective: “People I’ve talked to have no doubt we could set [Iran’s nuclear program] five or 10 years. There are those who believe we can get the underground facilities as well with these highly sophisticated bunker-busting munitions.” (Podhoretz does not identify the people he has “talked to.”) “I would say it would take five minutes. You’d wake up one morning and the strikes would have been ordered and carried out during the night. All the president has to do is say go.” Giuliani has echoed Podhoretz’s belligerence towards Iran; last month, Giuliani told a London audience that Iran should be given “an absolute assurance that, if they get to the point that they are going to become a nuclear power, we will prevent them or we will set them back five or 10 years.” Podhoretz says he was pleasantly surprised to hear Giuliani make such assertions: “I was even surprised he went that far. I’m sure some of his political people were telling him to go slow…. I wouldn’t advise any candidate to come out and say we have to bomb—it’s not a prudent thing to say at this stage of the campaign.” Podhoretz has given President Bush much the same advice (see Spring 2007).
'Irrational' 'Insanity' - Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel blasts the “immorality and illegality” of Podhoretz’s “death wish,” and notes that such “military action would be irrational for both sides. The US military is already stretched to the breaking point. We’d witness unprecedented pandemonium in oil markets. Our troops in Iraq would be endangered.” Vanden Heuvel cites the failure to destroy Saddam Hussein’s Scud missiles during six weeks of bombings in 1991 (see January 16, 1991 and After), and the failure of the Israeli bombing of Iraq’s Osirak reactor (see June 7, 1981) to curb “regional [nuclear] proliferation.” She concludes, “Podhoretz and his insanity will embolden Iranian hardliners, plunge the region into even greater and darker instability and undermine our security.” [Nation, 10/28/2007]
Giuliani's Stable of Neocons - Since July 2007, Giuliani has surrounded himself with a group of outspoken hardline and neoconservative foreign policy advisers (see Mid-July 2007).

Entity Tags: Norman Podhoretz, Katrina vanden Heuvel, Saddam Hussein, George W. Bush, Rudolph (“Rudy”) Giuliani

Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence

Category Tags: Israel, Neoconservative Hawks, Nuclear Program, Predictions

After spending a year traveling through the Middle East and writing about his experiences, Washington Post columnist Jim Hoagland says there is an “unmistakable effort by Iran to develop nuclear weapons.” He adds: “That Iran has gone to great, secretive lengths to create and push forward a bomb-building capability is not a Bush delusion.… [T]ime is running out on the diplomatic track.” In late October, Hoagland dismissed Russian Premier Vladimir Putin’s doubt that Iran would be able to turn enriched uranium into a usable weapon (see October 26, 2007) as “implausible.” [Editor & Publisher, 12/4/2007]

Entity Tags: Vladimir Putin, Jim Hoagland

Category Tags: Diplomacy, Nuclear Program, US Intel on Iran

While the Bush administration claims that Iran is risking “World War III” by continuing to pursue nuclear weapons (see October 20, 2007), an array of experts inside and outside the government quoted in a McClatchy News article say that there is no conclusive evidence that Iran is actively pursuing such weapons. The story, and the alleged facts, change depending on which administration official is doing the speaking. President Bush and Vice President Cheney use harsh, bellicose rhetoric reminiscent of the rhetoric used in the run-up to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, but others, such as Bush’s “point man” on Iran, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns, is attempting to tone down the rhetoric. Burns recently told reporters, “Iran is seeking a nuclear capability… that some people fear might lead to a nuclear-weapons capability.” Another US official says more directly, “I don’t think that anyone right today thinks [Iran is] working on a bomb.” Iran has the capability to continue working on producing a nuclear weapon, experts note, and could transform its current uranium-enrichment program into a weapons program if it so desired. But as of now, US experts have an amalgamation of circumstantial evidence and supposition, and no real proof; reporter Jonathan Landay observes, “Bush’s rhetoric seems hyperbolic compared with the measured statements by his senior aides and outside experts.” The UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency agrees. With four years of inspections of Iran’s nuclear energy program behind it, the IAEA says it has no information that would show Iran has an active nuclear weapons program. The circumstantial evidence that leads some to assert the reality of Iran’s active nuclear weapons program is extensive, but not always solid. In 2006, the CIA gave the IAEA thousands of pages of computer simulations and documents that it claimed it took from a defector’s laptop; those documents showed that Iranian experts were working on mounting a nuclear warhead on a ballistic missile, and working on developing nuclear “triggers,” or detonators. The CIA calls all of this Project 111. The Iranians denounced the materials as “politically motivated and baseless,” and have promised to cooperate with an IAEA investigation into the matter. Many Western intelligence officials and outside experts believe the materials are genuine—“I wouldn’t go to war over this, but it’s reason for suspicion,” says one—but Dr. Muhammad Sahimi, an Iranian defector who has closely monitored Iran’s nuclear program for decades, dismisses the materials as “totally not believable,” observing, “If the laptop did exist, I find it hard to believe that its absence wasn’t noticed for so long that somebody could take it out of Iran.” The IAEA has other questions as well, including a document from the nuclear black-market program of Dr. A. Q. Khan that shows how to form uranium into explosive cores, Iran’s experiments with radioactive materials used primarily in nuclear warheads, Iranian involvement with a uranium mine, and Iran’s claim that it needs large amounts of nuclear energy to feed its energy needs when it sits on such large reserves of oil and gas. Sahimi answers this last point by noting Iran would, in his opinion, do better to sell its petroleum on the global market and rely on nuclear energy for its own needs. [McClatchy News, 11/4/2007] A month after this article is published, the administration will release an intelligence report that concludes Iran stopped work on nuclear weapons in 2003 (see December 3, 2007).

Entity Tags: International Atomic Energy Agency, Bush administration (43), Abdul Qadeer Khan, Central Intelligence Agency, Jonathan Landay, George W. Bush, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Nicholas Burns, Muhammad Sahimi

Category Tags: 2007 NIE on Iran, Nuclear Program, US Intel on Iran, Neoconservative Hawks

The US military releases nine Iranian prisoners, including two captured when US troops stormed an Iranian government office in the Iraqi city of Irbil (see January 11, 2007). The office was shut after the raid, but has now reopened as an Iranian consulate. The US had one of the freed Iranians in custody for three years, and some of the released detainees are thought to be affiliated with al-Qaeda in Iraq, a Sunni insurgent organization. Iran is believed to be helping Iraqi Shi’ites, not Sunnis; however, US military officials say Iran may be arming Sunni organizations also, though not to the extent it is allegedly arming Shi’ite groups. Military spokesman Rear Admiral Gregory Smith says the identities of the nine Iranian prisoners will be released later, and says that many of the Iranians had been taken prisoner through the course of the US occupation. Kurdish forces have already released another Iranian soldier captured in September. Smith says Iran seems to be keeping its promise, made to the Iraqi government, to halt the flow of bomb-making materials and weaponry into Iraq. Recently captured caches of roadside bombs “do not appear to have arrived here in Iraq after those pledges were made,” Smith says. The second highest-level commander of US forces in Iraq, Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno, said last week that over the last three months there has been a sharp decline in the number of explosively formed projectiles (EFPs) found in Iraq during the last three months. At least five other Iranians, also captured in the Irbil office, remain in custody, facing accusations of being members of the paramilitary al-Quds force, which the US says funnels weapons to Shi’ite militias in Iraq. The US says it is still holding eleven Iranians in total, but the Iranian ambassador to Iraq, Hassan Kazemi-Qomi, says the number is 25, and demands their release as well. [Associated Press, 11/6/2007; McClatchy News, 11/9/2007]

Entity Tags: Gregory Smith, Al-Qaeda in Iraq, Raymond Odierno, al-Quds Brigade, Hassan Kazemi-Qomi

Category Tags: Geopolitics, Diplomacy, US Intel on Iran

Vice President Cheney’s office has been holding up the latest National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran for over a year, while pressuring the intelligence community to remove dissenting judgments on Iran’s nuclear program, two former CIA officers now reveal. So far the intelligence community has not bowed to Cheney’s pressure, and the White House has apparently decided to release the “unsatisfactory” draft NIE—but not make its key findings public. NIEs are the product of the 16 US intelligence agencies, and usually focus on a single nation or issue. According to one former CIA officer, the Iran NIE was ready to be published a year ago, but was delayed then because the Director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell, wanted the NIE to reflect a consensus on key conclusions, especially on Iran’s nuclear program (see February 20, 2007). The US intelligence community is split on its view of Iran’s nuclear program, with less independent-minded analysts willing to embrace Cheney’s alarmist positions, and others rejecting that view. The first draft was unacceptable to the White House; according to the former CIA officer, “They refused to come out with a version that had dissenting views in it.” Former CIA officer Philip Giraldi agrees with the unnamed officer’s assessment. “The White House wants a document that it can use as evidence for its Iran policy,” Giraldi says. Giraldi wrote in October 2006 that the Iran NIE was being held up by Cheney’s office, which objected to its findings on both Iran’s nuclear program and Iran’s putative role in arming Iraq. The White House then chose to delay any decision on the internal release of the NIE until after the November 2006 Congressional elections (see October 2006). In April 2007, Thomas Fingar, the chairman of the National Intelligence Council, said that the report would be delayed while the intelligence community evaluated “new reporting” from the International Atomic Energy Agency and other sources, as well as “reexamining old evidence.” According to the two former CIA officers, Fingar’s statement sent a powerful signal to the intelligence community that the White House wanted the NIE to be specific, focused, and alarming in its conclusions. In past weeks, officials involved in producing the NIE have been “throwing their hands up in frustration” over the refusal of the administration to allow the estimate to be released, according to the former intelligence officer. [Inter Press Service, 11/10/2007]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Thomas Fingar, Central Intelligence Agency, Mike McConnell, Philip Giraldi

Category Tags: 2007 NIE on Iran, US Policy Papers, Neoconservative Hawks

Journalist Seymour Hersh says that a new CIA assessment concludes, in his words, that “there’s no evidence Iran is doing anything that puts them close to a bomb. There’s no secret program of significant bomb making.” However, the White House is ignoring that assessment and still moving forward with plans to launch a military strike against Iran.
'Stovepiping' - Hersh says that President Bush and Vice President Cheney are “stovepiping” intelligence [funnelling selected intelligence directly to top officials] and keeping information provided by the Israelis hidden from the CIA. According to Hersh, the Israelis have informed White House officials that Israel has a reliable agent inside Iraq, and that agent reports that Iran is working on a trigger for a nuclear device (see November 2005). “[T]he CIA isn’t getting a good look at the Israeli intelligence. It’s the old word, stovepiping. It’s the President and the Vice President, it’s pretty much being kept in the White House. Of course the people in the CIA want to know who [the agent] is, obviously,” Hersh tells a reporter. “They certainly want to know what other evidence he has of actual making of a warhead. This is the internecine fight that’s going on—the same fight, by the way, that we had before Iraq.” The CIA has no way of verifying the Israeli intelligence claims, but in light of recent events with unverifiable evidence such as the “Curveball” debacle (see November 1999), that agency is understandably wary of such dramatic claims that contradict their own findings. [CNN, 11/19/2007]
Israeli Claims Unverifiable - A former senior intelligence official says of the Israeli’s claim: “The problem is that no one can verify it. We don’t know who the Israeli source is. The briefing says the Iranians are testing trigger mechanisms,” simulating a zero-yield nuclear explosion without any weapons-grade materials, “but there are no diagrams, no significant facts. Where is the test site? How often have they done it? How big is the warhead—a breadbox or a refrigerator? They don’t have that.” But the report is being used by the White House to “prove the White House’s theory that the Iranians are on track. And tests leave no radioactive track, which is why we can’t find it.” Another problem that evokes the “stovepiping” of pre-war Iraq intelligence is the fact that White House officials have asked the Israelis for the raw intelligence, the original, unanalyzed, and unvetted material. Similar requests were used to draw false conclusions about Iraq’s WMD program before the US invasion of that country. A Pentagon consultant says, “Many presidents in the past have done the same thing, but intelligence professionals are always aghast when presidents ask for stuff in the raw. They see it as asking a second grader to read Ulysses.[New Yorker, 11/27/2006]
Similar to Iraq Intelligence Problems - Former State Department intelligence expert Greg Thielmann noted in October 2003 that before the Iraq war, “garbage was being shoved straight to the President.” [New Yorker, 10/27/2003] Hersh suggests the same effect is happening now. [CNN, 11/19/2007]
White House Hostile to CIA Analysis - According to a current senior intelligence official, the White House is actively hostile to the CIA analysis, which is based on satellite imagery and other empirical evidence such as measurement of the radioactivity of water samples and highly classified radiation-detection devices surreptitiously placed near the Iranian nuclear facilities. Empirical data or not, the CIA analysis does not fit the White House’s needs, the intelligence official says. In its analysis, the CIA specifically warns that it would be a mistake to conclude that the failure to find a secret nuclear-weapons program in Iran is evidence that the Iranians are hiding it well. According to a former senior intelligence official, at the height of the Cold War, the Soviets were quite effective at deception and misdirection, but the US intelligence community was readily able to discern the details of their nuclear weapons and long-range missile programs. But, the former official says, many in the White House, particularly in Cheney’s office, are making just such an assumption: “the lack of evidence means they must have it.” [New Yorker, 11/27/2006]

Entity Tags: Seymour Hersh, George W. Bush, ’Curveball’, Central Intelligence Agency, Greg Thielmann, Bush administration (43), Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Category Tags: 2007 NIE on Iran, Nuclear Program, Planning, Neoconservative Hawks

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell says Iran is nowhere near acquiring a nuclear weapon, and though the US is concerned about that country’s nuclear ambitions, it is unlikely the US will launch a military strike to curb Iran’s nuclear program. “I think Iran is a long way from having anything that could be anything like a nuclear weapon,” Powell says. He adds that while the military option is not “off the table” for the US, there is no support for such a move among the American populace, and the US military already has enough to handle in Iraq and Afghanistan. [Associated Press, 11/19/2007]

Entity Tags: Colin Powell

Category Tags: Nuclear Program

According to national security director Stephen Hadley (see December 3, 2007) and President Bush himself (see December 3-4, 2007), Bush will not be informed about the findings of a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) showing that Iran stopped work on its nuclear program until November 28. But that may be false. On December 4, journalist Seymour Hersh will tell a CNN reporter, “Israel objects to this report. I’m told that [Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert had a private discussion with Bush about it during Annapolis—before Annapolis [where Israel and the US engaged in preliminary peace talks over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict]. Bush briefed him about it. The Israelis were very upset about the report. They think we’re naive, they don’t think we get it right. And so they have a different point of view.” If Hersh is correct, then Bush discussed the NIE’s findings with Israel’s Olmert on November 26, two days before he supposedly learns of them. [CNN, 12/4/2007] According to the Israeli news outlet Ha’aretz, “Israel has known about the report for more than a month. The first information on it was passed on to Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and to Shaul Mofaz, who is the minister responsible for the strategic dialog with the Americans. The issue was also discussed at the Annapolis summit by Barak and US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and it seems also between Bush and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.” [Ha'aretz, 12/5/2007]

Entity Tags: Shaul Mofaz, Ehud Barak, Ehud Olmert, George W. Bush, Stephen J. Hadley, Robert M. Gates, Seymour Hersh

Category Tags: Nuclear Program, US Intel on Iran, 2007 NIE on Iran

The Iran NIE.The Iran NIE. [Source: Office of the Director of National Intelligence]The newly released National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) for Iran’s nuclear weapons program concludes that Iran stopped working on nuclear weapons in 2003, and that the program remains on hold today. The Bush administration has repeatedly claimed that Iran is on the verge of acquiring nuclear arms, and has intimated that it is ready to attack that nation to prevent such an event from happening (see October 20, 2007). Interestingly, the administration has tried to have the NIE rewritten to more suit their view of Iran, an effort spearheaded by Vice President Dick Cheney (see October 2006). The findings of the NIE are expected to have a large impact on the negotiations between Iran and several Western countries, including the US, aimed at pressuring and cajoling Iran into giving up its nuclear energy program. The NIE, an assessment representing the consensus of the US’s 16 inteligence agencies, finds that while Iran’s ultimate ambitions towards becoming a nuclear-armed power remain unclear, Iran’s “decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic and military costs.… Some combination of threats of intensified international scrutiny and pressures, along with opportunities for Iran to achieve its security, prestige, and goals for regional influence in other ways might—if perceived by Iran’s leaders as credible—prompt Tehran to extend the current halt to its nuclear weapons program.” The NIE says that even if Iran were to restart development of its nuclear weapons program today, it would be at least two years at a minimum before it would have enough enriched uranium to produce a single bomb. The report says that Iran is more likely to develop a nuclear weapon by no earlier than 2013, “because of foreseeable technical and programmatic problems.” The report flatly contradicts the assessment made by a 2005 NIE that concluded Iran had an active nuclear weapons program and was determined to create them as quickly as possible. “We felt that we needed to scrub all the assessments and sources to make sure we weren’t misleading ourselves,” says one senior intelligence official. [New York Times, 12/3/2007; Director of National Intelligence, 12/3/2007 pdf file] There is no official word as to why the NIE has been publicly released by the White House when it so transparently contradicts the stance of the Bush administration, but Cheney implies the decision stems from a fear that it would be leaked anyway: “[T]here was a general belief that we all shared that it was important to put it out—that it was not likely to stay classified for long, anyway.” [Politico, 12/5/2007] The NIE is compiled from information gathered since 2004; one of the key intelligence findings is from intercepted phone calls between Iranian military commanders indicating that the nuclear program has been halted (see July 2007).

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Category Tags: 2007 NIE on Iran, Nuclear Program, US Intel on Iran, Neoconservative Hawks

Neoconservative eminence grise Norman Podhoretz, who recently advocated an all-out military strike against Iran (see October 28, 2007), claims that the recently released National Intelligence Estimate on Iran (see December 3, 2007) is an attempt by the US intelligence community to avoid making the same mistakes with weapons of mass destruction that it made in Iraq. Podhoretz rightly notes that in May 2005, the intelligence community assured the administration in an NIE that Iraq was pushing towards developing a nuclear weapon. Podhoretz writes that he suspects the intelligence community, “having been excoriated for supporting the then universal belief that Saddam [Hussein] had weapons of mass destruction, is now bending over backward to counter what has up to now been a similarly universal view… that Iran is hell-bent on developing nuclear weapons.” Podhoretz then presents what he calls “an even darker suspicion… that the intelligence community, which has for some years now been leaking material calculated to undermine George W. Bush, is doing it again.” [Commentary, 12/3/2007]

Entity Tags: Norman Podhoretz, George W. Bush

Category Tags: 2007 NIE on Iran, Geopolitics, US Intel on Iran, Neoconservative Hawks

Following the release of an intelligence estimate showing Iran shut down its nuclear program in 2003 (see December 3, 2007), National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley defends President George Bush’s recent statements about a possible “World War III” (see October 20, 2007). Hadley says that Bush was not told to tone down his rhetoric about Iran’s nuclear program after he was advised that the intelligence community was in the process of revising its estimate and that Bush would have made his “World War III” remarks anyway. “It was making a point that the president and we have been making for two or three years—that the international community has to exert more pressure, because Iran needs to suspend [its] enrichment program,” Hadley says. “That continues to be our policy after this latest National Intelligence Estimate.” [CNN, 12/5/2007]

Entity Tags: Stephen J. Hadley, George W. Bush

Category Tags: 2007 NIE on Iran, Geopolitics, Nuclear Program

Stephen Hadley briefing reporters on the new NIE.Stephen Hadley briefing reporters on the new NIE. [Source: New York Times]Following the release of the the new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran that concludes Iran shut down its nuclear weapons program in 2003 (see December 3, 2007), National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley portrays the NIE as reflective of the Bush administration’s views. Hadley says that it “offers some positive news,” adding that the NIE “confirms that we were right to be worried about Iran seeking to develop nuclear weapons.” Perhaps the most illuminating portion of Hadley’s interpretation reads: “The estimate offers grounds for hope that the problem can be solved diplomatically—without the use of force—as the administration has been trying to do. And it suggests that the president has the right strategy: intensified international pressure along with a willingness to negotiate a solution that serves Iranian interests while ensuring that the world will never have to face a nuclear armed Iran.” [New York Times, 12/3/2007] President Bush has apparently not changed his views because of the NIE. He says: “Iran was dangerous. Iran is dangerous. And Iran will be dangerous if they have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon.… I view this report as a warning signal that they had the program, they halted the program. The reason why it’s a warning signal is they could restart it.… To me, the NIE provides an opportunity for us to rally the international community—to continue to rally the community—to pressure the Iranian regime to suspend its program. What’s to say they couldn’t start another covert nuclear weapons program.” When asked if he had been “hyping” the threat from Iran in view of the NIE’s findings, Bush claims that he was only made aware of the NIE’s conclusions last week, a claim that does not stand up to examination (see December 3-4, 2007). [Associated Press, 12/4/2007; Guardian, 12/4/2007]

Entity Tags: Stephen J. Hadley, George W. Bush

Category Tags: 2007 NIE on Iran, Nuclear Program, US Policy Papers

Author and Hoover Institute fellow Victor Davis Hanson takes a different tack in his contribution to the neoconservative attack (see December 3-6, 2007) on the recently released National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear program (see December 3, 2007). Hanson says the NIE is a victory for the Bush administration and a conundrum for Democrats, who, Hanson asserts, must now accept that Bush has successfully headed off two separate nuclear threats to the US: “The latest news from Iran about the supposed abandonment in 2003 of the effort to produce a bomb—if even remotely accurate—presents somewhat of a dilemma for liberal Democrats. Are they now to suggest that Republicans have been warmongering over a nonexistent threat for partisan purposes?… After all, what critic would wish now to grant that one result of the 2003 war—aside from the real chance that Iraq can stabilize and function under the only consensual government in the region—might have been the elimination, for some time, of two growing and potentially nuclear threats to American security, quite apart from Saddam Hussein?” [National Review, 12/3/2007]

Entity Tags: Victor Davis Hanson, George W. Bush, Hoover Institute

Category Tags: 2007 NIE on Iran, Geopolitics, US Intel on Iran, Neoconservative Hawks

While President Bush takes something of the high road (see December 5, 2007) in reacting to the newly released National Intelligence Estimate saying that Iran shut down its nuclear program in 2003 (see December 3, 2007), neoconservatives and other right-wing figures throw an entire array of accusations—some directed at Democrats, some at the State Department officials who compiled the report, and some at the US intelligence community itself, in an attempt to discredit the report (see December 3, 2007, December 3, 2007, December 4, 2007, December 4, 2007, December 4, 2007, December 4-6, 2007, December 5, 2007, and December 6, 2007). [Los Angeles Times, 12/4/2007]

Entity Tags: US Department of State, George W. Bush

Category Tags: 2007 NIE on Iran, Nuclear Program, US Intel on Iran, Neoconservative Hawks

Responses from outside the White House (see December 3, 2007) to the newly released National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran, which states that Iran shut down its nuclear weapons program in 2003 (see December 3, 2007), are largely marked by relief that the US will now probably take a less aggressive position on Iran. Iranian foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki says he welcomes the US move to “correct” its previous assertions, adding: “It’s natural that we welcome it when those countries who in the past have questions and ambiguities about this case… now amend their views realistically. The condition of Iran’s peaceful nuclear activities is becoming clear to the world.” However, a statement from the Israeli government says that Israel believes Iran is still working on developing nuclear weapons. [Guardian, 12/4/2007] Congressional lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say that the NIE has removed much of the immediacy from the possibility of US military intervention in Iraq. “[I]f nothing else, the urgency that we have to attack Iran, or knock out facilities” is no longer there, says Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE). “I don’t think you can overstate the importance of this.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) says that, in light of the new intelligence report, the White House should adjust its policy and pursue “a diplomatic surge” to engage with Iran. Reid suggests that the administration “[f]ollow the Ronald Reagan theory of diplomacy.… What did Ronald Reagan do? He started his diplomats working with the evil people in the Soviet people, as he referred to, to work something out. And he did. He met with the leaders of the Soviet Union he didn’t particularly like. And that’s what we should be doing with Iran. We should be having a surge of diplomacy with Iran. And based upon this, I think it would be a pretty good idea.” [Think Progress, 12/3/2007; Guardian, 12/4/2007] Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, says, “The key judgments show that the intelligence community has learned its lessons from the Iraq debacle. [The community] has issued judgments that break sharply with its own previous assessments, and they reflect a real difference from the views espoused by top administration officials.” [Washington Post, 12/4/2007]

Entity Tags: Manouchehr Mottaki, Bush administration (43), Chuck Hagel, Harry Reid, John D. Rockefeller

Category Tags: 2007 NIE on Iran, Nuclear Program, US Policy Papers

George W. Bush, apparently taken somewhat aback by the US intelligence community’s findings released on December 3, 2007, that Iran halted its work on a nuclear bomb four years ago (see December 3, 2007), claims that he only learned about the findings on November 28. The intelligence community’s National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) has been in production for some 18 months. According to National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, both Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were first given initial briefings in either August or September. [White House, 11/28/2007; Washington Post, 12/4/2007] Bush tells reporters he wasn’t even aware of the evidence showing Iran had halted its nuclear program, “I was made aware of the NIE last week. In August, I think it was [Director of National Intelligence] Mike McConnell [who] came in and said, ‘We have some new information.’ He didn’t tell me what the information was. He did tell me it was going to take a while to analyze.… And it wasn’t until last week that I was briefed on the NIE that is now public.” A clearly incredulous reporter follows up by asking, “I understand what you’re saying about when you were informed about the NIE. Are you saying at no point while the rhetoric was escalating, as World War III was making it into conversation—at no point, nobody from your intelligence team or your administration was saying, ‘Maybe you want to back it down a little bit?’” Bush answers, “No—I’ve never—nobody ever told me that.” [CNN, 12/4/2007] From Hadley’s words, the date that Bush knew of the NIE findings may be much earlier. Hadley tells reporters attempting to pin him down on the exact date when Bush was told of the findings, “[W]hen was the president notified that there was new information available? We’ll try and get you a precise answer. As I say, it was, in my recollection, is in the last few months. Whether that’s October—August-September, we’ll try and get you an answer for that.” All told, Hadley says that Bush was told of the findings within “the last few months” five different times during the press conference. [Think Progress, 12/3/2007] By December 5, the White House will begin refusing to answer the question at all. White House spokesman Tony Fratto will tell reporters, “I don’t have anything on that.… I can’t give you more detail on what Director McConnell said to the President.” [White House, 12/5/2007]
Bush Either 'Lying' or 'Stupid' - Many find Bush’s claim hard to accept. Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) notes that he and ranking committee member Kit Bond (R-MO) received a briefing on the NIE’s intelligence “several months ago,” and says, “I was really struck when the president said that he only got the final judgments on Tuesday.” He cannot imagine that he and Bond received information months in advance of Bush. Rockefeller says he “can’t believe” that McConnell’s indication of new information didn’t prevent Bush from “talking about a nuclear holocaust.” [PBS, 12/4/2007] Former National Security Council official Flynt Leverett says the White House is probably being dishonest about what Bush knew and when he knew it. “I can’t imagine that McConnell… would tell the president about this and not tell him what the information actually said,” Leverett observes. [CNN, 12/5/2007] Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) says, “What’s shocking today is that apparently he knew about this estimate a month or more before he made those statements. I don’t think that shows a responsible use of intelligence.” [Reuters, 12/5/2007] And MSNBC talk show host Joe Scarborough, a former Republican Congressman, says flatly, “We are left with only two options here. Either the President of the United States is lying to the American people about what happened during that meeting, or the President of the United States is stupid.” [MSNBC, 12/5/2007]
Cheney Not Hampered by Lack of Intelligence - If Bush was indeed ignorant of the intelligence findings, as he asserts, it is not likely that his vice president labored under the same lack of information, judging from the fact that Cheney’s office has been involved in trying to suppress the NIE for over a year (see October 2006).

Entity Tags: Mike McConnell, Joseph Scarborough, Stephen J. Hadley, John D. Rockefeller, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Jack Reed, Bush administration (43), Flynt Leverett, George W. Bush, Senate Intelligence Committee, Christopher (“Kit”) Bond, Tony Fratto

Category Tags: Nuclear Program, US Intel on Iran, Neoconservative Hawks

In light of the just-released National Intelligence Estimate that concluded Iran stopped research on nuclear weapons in 2003 (see December 3, 2007), Editor and Publisher’s Greg Mitchell notes that many media pundits have “promoted [the administration’s] line” of Iran’s imminent emergence as a nuclear threat. He comments: “Many in the media have made [such] claims, often extravagantly, which promoted (deliberately or not) the tubthumping for striking Iran.… [T]oo many in the media seemed to fail to learn the lessons of the Iraqi WMD intelligence failure—and White House propaganda effort—and instead, were repeating it, re: Iran. This time, perhaps, we may have averted war, with little help from most of the media. In this case, it appears, the NIE people managed to resist several months of efforts by the administration to change their assessment. If only they had stiffened their backbones concerning Iraq in 2002.” Three pundits—David Brooks (see January 22, 2006), Thomas Friedman (see June 2007), and Richard Cohen (see October 23, 2007)—managed to, in Mitchells’s words, at least “back some kind of diplomacy in regard to Iran, unlike many of their brethren.” Others were more forceful in their calls for action, including the Washington Post’s Jim Hoagland (see November 4, 2007), the Weekly Standard’s William Kristol (see July 14, 2006), and the Post editorial page (see September 26, 2007). Mitchell notes that many of these pundits are regulars on television news and commentary programs. [Editor & Publisher, 12/4/2007]

Entity Tags: Jim Hoagland, Bush administration (43), David Brooks, Greg Mitchell, Richard Cohen, Washington Post, William Kristol, New York Times, Thomas Friedman

Category Tags: 2007 NIE on Iran, Nuclear Program, Calls for Overthrow, Neoconservative Hawks

Neoconservative academic and intelligence figure Michael Ledeen joins his fellows Norman Podhoretz (see December 3, 2007) and John Bolton (see December 4, 2007) in attacking the recently released National Intelligence Estimate on Iran (see December 3, 2007). Ledeen excoriates the intelligence community for reversing themselves from their previous claims that Iran did indeed have an active nuclear program, and accuses its members of trying to “cover their derrieres.” Ledeen writes. “[I]ndeed, those ‘intelligence professionals’ were very happy to take off their analytical caps and gowns and put on their policy wigs.… This sort of blatant unprofessionalism is as common in today’s Washington as it is unworthy of a serious intel type, and I think it tells us a lot about the document itself.… This document will not stand up to serious criticism, but it will undoubtedly have a significant political impact, since it will be taken as confirmation of the view that we should not do anything mean to the [Iranian] mullahs. We should talk to them instead.” Ledeen concludes that the NIE is “insulting to our leaders, who should expect serious work from the [intelligence community] instead of this bit of policy advocacy masquerading as serious intelligence.” [Pajamas Media, 12/4/2007; National Review, 12/4/2007]

Entity Tags: Michael Ledeen, John R. Bolton, Norman Podhoretz

Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence

Category Tags: 2007 NIE on Iran, Geopolitics, US Intel on Iran, Neoconservative Hawks

Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE), a presidential candidate and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, says that President Bush deliberately misled the American people over the danger posed by Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and that if Bush initiates an attack on Iran without the approval of Congress, he will call for Bush’s impeachment. Biden tells reporters, “After all we’ve been through, for this president to knowingly disregard or once again misrepresent intelligence about an issue of war and peace, I find outrageous.” Biden is referring to the faulty and deceptive intelligence presented by the Bush administration to justify invading Iraq. The US intelligence community recently released a National Intelligence Estimate (see December 3, 2007) that concluded Iran shut down its nuclear program in 2003, and Bush has asserted that he himself only learned about the shutdown in late November (see December 3-4, 2007). Biden doesn’t believe Bush’s tale of ignorance: “Are you telling me a president who’s briefed every single morning, who’s fixated on Iran, is not told back in August that the tentative conclusion of 16 intelligence agencies of the United States government said [Iran] had abandoned their effort for nuclear weapons in 2003?” Biden says if Bush’s assertion of ignorance is true, then he and his staff are thoroughly incompetent. “You cannot trust this president,” Biden states. [ABC News, 12/4/2007] Biden is joined by other Democratic presidential candidates, although they use less “heated rhetoric” than Biden. Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) says, “I think we do know that pressure on Iran does have an effect. I think that is an important lesson. But we’re not going to reach the kind of resolution that we should seek unless we put that into the context of a diplomatic process.” And Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) notes that Bush “continues to not let facts get in the way of his ideology.… They should have stopped the saber rattling; should have never started it. And they need, now, to aggressively move on the diplomatic front.” [CNN, 12/5/2007]

Entity Tags: Joseph Biden, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Republican National Committee, Hillary Clinton, Senate Foreign Relations Committee

Category Tags: 2007 NIE on Iran, Nuclear Program, US Intel on Iran

Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, says that he does not know of the newly released National Intelligence Estimate concluding that Iran has long ago shut down its nuclear program (see December 3, 2007), but he does not believe it. “I don’t know where the intelligence is coming from that says that they suspended the program and how credible that is versus the news that they actually are expanding it,” he says. “And then I’ve heard the last two weeks supposed reports that say that they are accelerating and could be having a reactor in a much shorter period of time than originally they thought.” [Chicago Tribune, 12/4/2007] Huckabee made light of his ignorance of foreign policy earlier in the day, joking on a radio talk show that he’s “not an expert… but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.” [National Journal, 12/4/2007] Conservative pundit Byron York attacks Huckabee: “Beyond doing nothing to resolve doubts about his foreign policy qualifications, the exchange underscores the fact that Huckabee doesn’t really have much of a campaign, in the sense that [fellow Republican presidential candidates Rudolph] Giuliani and [Mitt] Romney have campaigns, with teams of advisers and carefully-thought-out policy positions. In important ways, he has been flying by the seat of his pants, relying on his unequaled talents as a retail campaigner. But now that he is leading in Iowa, and moving up nationally as well, the deficiencies of his campaign might come more and more into the spotlight.” [National Review, 12/4/2007]

Entity Tags: Byron York, Mike Huckabee

Category Tags: Neoconservative Hawks, Nuclear Program, US Intel on Iran, 2007 NIE on Iran

Eleven US veterans who served in Iraq and/or Afghanistan demand that Congress open hearings on the pro-war rhetoric of the Bush administration in light of the recently released National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran that concluded Iran stopped work on its nuclear weapons program in 2003 (see December 3, 2007). The veterans, leaders and members of the antiwar group VoteVets, write a letter to the chairmen of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees, Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Silvestre Reyes (D-TX). The letter reads in part, “[W]e are extremely concerned about news that has emerged over the past few days regarding the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran, what it says, and when the President knew about it. We believe the mass confusion over when the President knew of the report’s findings, and whether he continued to ramp up Iran war rhetoric anyway, warrants an immediate investigation by your committees. Our concern, primarily, is that such rhetoric only serves to stoke hostility towards our troops currently in Iraq, and that, if military action against Iran is launched, it has serious repercussions on the lives of our troops and our very military.… Despite the White House having [the information behind the NIE] administration officials continued to use rhetoric designed to sell the American public on the idea of taking military action against Iran.” The veterans note that President Bush apparently lied about when he became aware of the intelligence behind the NIE (see December 3-4, 2007). The veterans ask that the two committees find out the truth behind what Bush knew and when he knew it, and if Bush was aware that the rhetoric from himself and his officials could increase the danger faced by US troops in Iraq. “These questions must be examined and a determination must be made as to why comments such as the ones above were made. If not for legitimate security reasons, did the administration put our troops at increased risk for domestic political reasons?” [VetVoice, 12/4/2007]

Entity Tags: Moqtada al-Sadr, Bush administration (43), George W. Bush, Senate Intelligence Committee, House Intelligence Committee, VoteVets, John D. Rockefeller, Silvestre Reyes

Category Tags: 2007 NIE on Iran

Former UN ambassador John Bolton joins the neoconservative attack (see December 3-6, 2007) on the recently released National Intelligence Estimate on Iran (see December 3, 2007). Bolton says that the NIE is a victory for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, both advocates of diplomacy with Iran: “Secretary Rice and Secretary Gates have fundamentally won. This is an NIE very conveniently teed up for what the administration has been doing.” [Los Angeles Times, 12/4/2007] Bolton echoes and extends an accusation leveled by fellow neoconservative Norman Podhoretz about the intelligence community manipulating the NIE for its own ends (see December 3, 2007): “I think there is a risk here, and I raise this as a question, whether people in the intelligence community who had their own agenda on Iran for some time now have politicized this intelligence and politicized these judgments in a way contrary to where the administration was going. I think somebody needs to look at that.” [Fox News, 12/4/2007]

Entity Tags: John R. Bolton, Robert M. Gates, Norman Podhoretz, Condoleezza Rice

Category Tags: 2007 NIE on Iran, Geopolitics, US Intel on Iran, Neoconservative Hawks

As part of the neoconservative attack (see December 3-6, 2007) on the recently released National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear program (see December 3, 2007), American Enterprise Institute fellow and former Pentagon adviser Michael Rubin tries to pin the blame for the previous uncertainty about Iran’s nuclear program on the Clinton administration. Rubin writes: “If Iran was working on a nuclear weapons program until 2003, what does this say about US policy in the late Clinton period…? Is it fair to say that while Iran spoke of dialogue of civilizations, it was working on a nuclear weapons program?” [National Review, 12/4/2007]

Entity Tags: American Enterprise Institute, Michael Rubin, George W. Bush, Clinton administration

Category Tags: 2007 NIE on Iran, Geopolitics, US Intel on Iran, Neoconservative Hawks

Joining the neoconservative attack (see December 3-6, 2007) on the recently released National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear program (see December 3, 2007), the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page questions the motives of the three former State Department officials who helped compile the NIE, Thomas Fingar, Vann Van Diepin, and Kenneth Brill. The Journal writes, “Our own ‘confidence’ is not heightened by the fact that the NIE’s main authors include three former State Department officials with previous reputations as ‘hyper-partisan anti-Bush officials.’” [Fox News, 12/6/2007] Former UN ambassador and influential neoconservative John Bolton agrees. Bolton, who has already accused the intelligence community of deliberately politicizing its report (see December 4, 2007), tells a reporter: “I would also say many of the people who wrote this are former State Department employees who, during their career at the State Department, never gave much attention to the threat of the Iranian program. Now they are writing as members of the intelligence community, the same opinions that they have had four and five years ago.” [CNN, 12/4/2007]

Entity Tags: Thomas Fingar, John R. Bolton, Kenneth Brill, Wall Street Journal, Vann Van Diepin, US Department of State

Category Tags: 2007 NIE on Iran, Geopolitics, US Intel on Iran, Neoconservative Hawks

While many inside and outside the Bush administration consider the recent National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran, which concluded that Iran halted its push towards building nuclear weapons in 2003 (see December 3, 2007), a disappointment, a small but influential group inside the Defense Department consider it a victory for their viewpoint. The NIE almost guarantees that Bush will not order any sort of military strike against Iran, a result sought by, among others, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs chairman Admiral Michael Mullen, and Admiral William Fallon, the supreme commander of US forces in the Middle East. All three have, in recent months, privately and publicly opposed the idea of going to war with Iran; indeed, the Pentagon’s intelligence units were instrumental in forming the NIE’s conclusions. Time reporter Mark Thompson writes, “Some critics have suggested that the military simply found a public way to quiet the drumbeat for war coming from Vice President Dick Cheney and his shrinking band of allies in the administration.” Additionally, some Pentagon officials believe that this NIE shows the US intelligence community is not as tied to ideological and political concerns as was evidenced by the 2002 NIE on Iraq (see October 1, 2002). For his part, Gates warns that the US and the international community must continue pressuring Iran to keep its nuclear-weapons program dormant, and “[a]s long as they continue with their enrichment activities, then the opportunity to resume that nuclear weapons program is always present.” But Gates adds that the NIE demonstrates that non-military actions are the best way to keep Iran’s nuclear program in check: “If anything, the new national estimate validates the administration’s strategy of bringing diplomatic and economic pressures to bear on the Iranian government to change its policies.” [Time, 12/5/2007]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Bush administration (43), Mark Thompson, Michael Mullen, William Fallon, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Robert M. Gates

Category Tags: Diplomacy, Nuclear Program, US Policy Papers, US Intel on Iran

The Washington Post’s Dan Froomkin puts together what he calls a “pattern of deception” in President Bush’s response to the recently released National Intelligence Estimate about Iran (see December 3, 2007). Froomkin writes that, contrary to Bush’s assertions that he knew nothing about the report’s conclusions until late November (see December 3-4, 2007 and December 5-6, 2007), it is evident Bush was told something concrete in August. At that time Bush began to change his rhetoric about Iran, going from explicit assertions about Iran’s nuclear weapons to more vague, yet just as alarming, assertions about Iran’s desire to obtain the knowledge and technology required for building a nuclear weapon. Froomkin writes, “Bush left his listeners with what he likely knew was a fundamentally false impression. And he did so in the pursuit of a more muscular and possibly even military approach to a Middle Eastern country. It’s an oddly familiar pattern of deception.”
Timeline of Deception - Froomkin provides a timeline of Bush’s statements against Iran, from early January 2007, where Bush said Iran “want[s] to have a nuclear weapon” (see January 26, 2007), to late March, when he asserted Iran was actively working on a nuclear bomb (see March 31, 2007). In mid-June, Bush warned that there would be “consequences” towards Iran if it continued working on a nuclear bomb (see June 19, 2007). A month later, Bush tied the Iranian nuclear program into what he called a “broader struggle” in the Middle East (see July 12, 2007). On August 6, Bush said that Iran’s nuclear ambitions were a “destabilizing” force in the Middle East (see August 6, 2007). But on August 9, Bush’s rhetoric shifted: while not backing down from his threats and warnings about Iran’s nuclear program, he began talking about Iran’s enrichment of uranium and its “step[s] toward having a nuclear weapons program” (see August 9, 2007). Bush continued with that particular parsing until the NIE was made public in early December. [Washington Post, 12/5/2007]
Olbermann Denounces Bush's Rhetorical Shift - MSNBC host Keith Olbermann uses Froomkin’s carefully constructed timeline of presidential pronouncements about Iran to launch a fiery denunciation of Bush’s deceptions. Olbermann says, “We have either a president who is too dishonest to restrain himself from invoking World War III about Iran at least six weeks after he had to have known that the analogy would be fantastic, irresponsible hyperbole, or we have a president too transcendently stupid not to have asked, at what now appears to have been a series of opportunities to do so, whether the fairy tales he either created or was fed were still even remotely plausible. A pathological presidential liar, or an idiot-in-chief.” Bush’s parsing might be technically true, Olbermann notes: “Legally, it might save you from some war crimes trial, but ethically it is a lie. It is indefensible.… You, Mr. Bush, are a bald-faced liar.… You not only knew all of this about Iran in early August, but you also knew it was accurate. And instead of sharing this good news with the people you have obviously forgotten you represent, you merely fine-tuned your terrorizing of those people, to legally cover your own backside.” [MSNBC, 12/6/2007]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Dan Froomkin, Keith Olbermann

Category Tags: 2007 NIE on Iran, Nuclear Program, US Intel on Iran, Neoconservative Hawks

President George W. Bush demands that Iran “come clean” about its nuclear weapons program or face diplomatic isolation. The director of national intelligence recently released a sweeping National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that concluded Iran shut down its nuclear weapons research program in 2003 (see December 3, 2007), and since then the administration has attempted various responses to the document. Bush is now demanding that Iran produce details about its nuclear weapons programs which it “has yet to acknowledge.” Bush says: “The Iranians have a strategic choice to make. They can come clean with the international community about the scope of their nuclear activities, and fully accept the long-standing offer to suspend their enrichment program and come to the table and negotiate, or they can continue on a path of isolation.” According to analysts, Bush may be worried the US is losing leverage over Iran, as well as credibility around the world.
Response to NIE and US intelligence community - Bush does not directly criticize the US intelligence community, but says he appreciates its work in helping his officials understand past and present activities in Iran, and helping his administration develop a sound policy towards Iran. Of the NIE, Bush continues to portray it as in line with his own policies and suspicions, saying, “It is clear from the latest NIE that the Iranian government has more to explain about its nuclear intentions and past actions.” Bush says that his administration will continue to push for tougher UN sanctions against Iran. Deputy White House Press Secretary Tony Fratto says that Iran continues to hide information, remains in violation of two UN Security Council resolutions, tests ballistic missiles and is enriching uranium. “Anyone who thinks that the threat from Iran has receded or diminished is naive and is not paying attention to the facts,” Fratto says. [Associated Press, 12/5/2007]

Entity Tags: United Nations, George W. Bush

Category Tags: 2007 NIE on Iran, Nuclear Program, US Intel on Iran, Neoconservative Hawks

Former senator and current Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson joins the neoconservative attack (see December 3-6, 2007) on the recently released National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear program (see December 3, 2007). Thompson asks if Iran might have leaked the information used in the NIE for its own purposes: “We’re just going to have to wait and see, why they would start it up and they would move away without telling anybody. Unless of course they have leaked this themselves. So, just a bunch of unanswered questions.… And this is perhaps a weak, faint or weak attempt to cause us to divert our attention a little bit.” He adds: “The accuracy of the latest NIE on Iran should be received with a good deal of skepticism. Our intelligence community has often underestimated the intentions of adversaries, including Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and North Korea.… It’s awfully convenient for a lot of people: the administration gets to say its policies worked; the Democrats get to claim we should have eased up on Iran a long time ago: and Russia and China can claim sanctions on Iran are not necessary. Who benefits from all this? Iran.” [Think Progress, 12/5/2007]

Entity Tags: Fred Thompson

Category Tags: 2007 NIE on Iran, Geopolitics, US Intel on Iran, Neoconservative Hawks

The White House confirms that President Bush was told in August 2007 that Iran’s nuclear weapons program “may be suspended,” the conclusion of the recently released National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) (see December 3, 2007). The White House’s admission is a direct contradiction of Bush’s assertion that he only learned of the NIE in late November (see December 3-4, 2007 and November 26-28, 2007). Press secretary Dana Perino says Bush was not told in August of the specifics behind the information about Iran’s nuclear program. Perino says that Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Mike McConnell told Bush in August that the new information might cause the intelligence community to revise its assessment of the Iranian program, but analysts still needed to complete their review before making a final judgment. However, Perino says there is no conflict between her statement and Bush’s insistence that he knew nothing about the substance of the intelligence assessment until late November, because Bush “wasn’t given the specific details” of the revised estimate. Perino’s account raises questions about why, if Bush knew the intelligence community believed Iran’s nuclear weapons program was in abeyance, two months later, he was still giving dire warnings about Iran being a threat to cause “World War III” if not halted (see October 20, 2007). Perino offers an explanation of those warnings, saying, “The president didn’t say we’re going to cause World War III. He was saying he wanted to avoid World War III.” Perino says it is unfair to question Bush’s veracity: “If anyone wants to call the president a liar, they are misreading the situation for their own political purposes. The liar is [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad [the president of Iran], and he has a lot of explaining to do.”
Reaction - Joseph Biden, a Democratic presidential candidate and the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, calls Bush’s explanation unbelievable. “I refuse to believe that,” Biden says. “If that’s true, he has the most incompetent staff in modern American history, and he’s one of the most incompetent presidents in modern American history.” [CNN, 12/5/2007] Four former CIA officials call Bush’s claim of ignorance about the Iran intelligence “preposterous.” Melvin Goodman, a 24-year CIA veteran, calls Bush’s claim “unbelievable.” He is joined by Ray McGovern, another CIA veteran who routinely briefed George H. W. Bush during his two terms as vice president; Larry Johnson, the former deputy of the State Department’s Office of Counter Terrorism; and Bruce Riedel, a former National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asian offices. McGovern is almost contemptuous of Bush’s claim: “The notion that the head of National Intelligence whispered in Bush’s ear, ‘I’ve got a surprise for you and it’s really important, but I’m not going to tell you about it until we check it out’—the whole thing is preposterous.” Riedel says that Bush “either chose to ignore what he heard or his director of national intelligence is not doing his job.” He doubts McConnell failed to do his part. “To me it is almost mind boggling that the president is told by the DNI that we have new important information on Iran and he doesn’t ask ‘what is that information?’” Riedel adds. It is not McConnell’s responsibility to tell Bush to “stop hyperventilating about the Iranian threat,” he says, but instead the job of National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and Bush’s other policy advisers to keep “their eye on the intelligence and to take into account new information as it comes along.” Johnson says that the information used in the NIE would have been available months before it was released to the public, and would have automatically been included in the Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB). Bush would have been told of the intelligence findings, as would Vice President Cheney, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Goodman and McGovern agree with Johnson’s statement. [Huffington Post, 12/5/2007] A deconstruction of Bush’s own statements over the last several months indicates that Bush changed his wording in early August, most likely because he was informed about the intelligence findings over Iran (see December 5, 2007).

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Dana Perino, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Bruce Riedel, Stephen J. Hadley, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Mike McConnell, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Larry C. Johnson, Joseph Biden, Condoleezza Rice, Ray McGovern, Robert M. Gates, Melvin A. Goodman

Category Tags: 2007 NIE on Iran, Nuclear Program, US Intel on Iran, Neoconservative Hawks

Fred Kaplan.Fred Kaplan. [Source: ForeignAffairs.com]Both Vice-President Dick Cheney and Slate’s Fred Kaplan back the accuracy of the new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that says Iran’s nuclear program ended in 2003 (see December 3-6, 2007 and December 7, 2007). Cheney is asked by a reporter from the online news magazine The Politico, “[D]o you believe the new [NIE] that’s out—or is there a reason to question those conclusions?” Cheney replies: “I don’t have any reason to question the—what the community has produced, with respect to the NIE on Iran. Now, there are things they don’t know. There are always—there’s always the possibility that the circumstances will change. But I think they’ve done the best job they can with the intelligence that’s available to give us their best judgment on those issues.” [White House, 12/6/2007] Kaplan refutes a claim that three State Department officials, at least one hostile to Bush, wrote the NIE, saying: “[T]he NIE is not ‘a team of three in the State Department.’ It’s the product of all 16 US intelligence agencies. From all accounts, this was a very elaborate process involving thousands of new pieces of information, including intercepts, human intelligence, and so forth. It also seems to have been scrubbed meticulously, subjected to ‘red team’ exercises—the works.” [Slate, 12/6/2007]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Fred Kaplan, US Department of State

Category Tags: 2007 NIE on Iran, Nuclear Program, Neoconservative Hawks

Conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh, joining the attack (see December 3-6, 2007) on the recently released National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear program (see December 3, 2007), asks about the likelihood of political gamesmanship inside the administration. Limbaugh tells his listeners, “I guarantee there’s more sabotage coming out of that place regarding the Bush administration.” [Fox News, 12/6/2007]

Entity Tags: Rush Limbaugh, Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: 2007 NIE on Iran, Geopolitics, US Intel on Iran, Neoconservative Hawks

Thomas Fingar.Thomas Fingar. [Source: Office of Personnel Management]Some Bush administration members and supporters accuse three former State Department officials of deliberately writing the recent National Intelligence Estimate on Iran (NIE) (see December 3, 2007) in an inaccurate and partisan manner. The three former State Department officials are Thomas Fingar, deputy director of national intelligence for analysis; Vann Van Diepen, national intelligence officer for weapons of mass destruction and proliferation; and Kenneth Brill, director of the national counterproliferation center. All three currently work at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI). Fingar, Van Diepen, and Brill helped compile the information in the NIE, and helped write the final draft, but none of them actually produced or analyzed the intelligence used in the report. A spokesman for Senator John Ensign (R-NV) says that intelligence reports such as the recent Iran NIE are “becoming very politicized.” David Wurmser, the former chief Middle East adviser to Vice President Cheney, says, “One has to look at the agendas of the primary movers of this report, to judge how much it can really be banked on.” The officials say that when the three DNI officials worked in the State Department under then-Secretary Colin Powell, they supported Powell’s belief that diplomacy, not confrontation and belligerence, would best address the threat from Iran’s nuclear program. On the other side was then-Undersecretary John Bolton, who, like his fellow neoconservatives in the White House, believed that the only way to handle Iran’s nuclear threat was by confrontation. Unnamed officials accuse Fingar, Van Diepen, and Brill of trying to “torpedo the threat that this administration would pose to their desired policy outcomes on Iran, which is some kind of accommodation with an Iranian nuclear program.” The officials accuse Fingar, Van Diepen, and Brill of working to block economic and military sanctions against Iran and “sabotag[ing]” the administration’s attempt to pressure foreign allies to impose sanctions. The three former State officials were brought to the DNI by then-director John Negroponte, considered a strong Powell ally. Van Diepen is particular criticized and accused of having a personal animosity towards Bolton, and of opposing anything towards Iran except what they call “tea-cup diplomacy.” Brill is accused of being “extremely close” to Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, an agency which these officials view as an Iran apologist. [Washington Times, 12/7/2007] The anonymous officials’ charges are refuted by, among others, Vice President Dick Cheney (see December 6, 2007).

Entity Tags: John Negroponte, George W. Bush, David Wurmser, Colin Powell, Bush administration (43), John Ensign, Vann Van Diepen, Mohamed ElBaradei, Thomas Fingar, John R. Bolton, Kenneth Brill, International Atomic Energy Agency, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of State

Category Tags: 2007 NIE on Iran, Nuclear Program, Neoconservative Hawks

Fox News pundit Sean Hannity derides the recently released National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that concluded Iran stopped work on its nuclear weapons program in 2003 (see December 3, 2007). Hannity goes further than many of his fellow conservatives (see December 3-6, 2007), and claims that the NIE is not only wrong, but is the same as the erroneous 2005 NIE on Iran which claimed that Iran was mere months away from producing a nuclear weapon. “The headlines that we’re reading about the NIE are misleading,” Hannity declares. Discussing the NIE with his guest, former UN ambassador and leading neoconservative John Bolton, Hannity says, “[S]ubstantively you’re pointing out that the NIE report in 2005 and the one in 2007 are basically the same. And you say, moreover, the distinction between military and civilian programs is highly artificial.” Bolton says in reply, “They’re still doing it, building up an inventory.” [Fox News, 12/7/2007] Hannity and Bolton misconstrue the two NIEs. Some of the differences:
bullet The 2005 NIE assessed “with high confidence that Iran currently is determined to develop nuclear weapons,” while the 2007 NIE assessed “high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.”
bullet According to the 2005 NIE, “Iran could produce enough fissile material for a weapon by the end of this decade.” The 2007 NIE concludes, “[T]his is very unlikely.” [USA Today, 12/4/2007]
Hannity’s co-host, moderate Alan Colmes, says of the NIE’s findings, “They’re very clear. They [Iran] halted their covert weapons program in 2003. It’s very clear.” Hannity dismisses Colmes’s assertion by retorting, “He doesn’t get it.” [Fox News, 12/7/2007]

Entity Tags: Sean Hannity, Fox News, Alan Colmes, John R. Bolton

Category Tags: 2007 NIE on Iran

As part of the conservative backlash against the recently released National Intelligence Estimate on Iran that concluded Iran had halted work on its nuclear weapons program in 2003 (see December 3, 2007 and December 3-6, 2007), some Senate Republicans intend to call for a Congressional commission to investigate the conclusions and the intelligence that went into it, with an eye to discrediting the NIE and its producers. John Ensign (R-NV) says he will propose a “bipartisan” commission to review the NIE, saying, “Iran is one of the greatest threats in the world today. Getting the intelligence right is absolutely critical, not only on Iran’s capability but its intent. So now there is a huge question raised, and instead of politicizing that report, let’s have a fresh set of eyes—objective, yes—look at it.… There are a lot of people out there who do question [the NIE]. There is a huge difference between the 2005 and 2007 estimates.” The 2005 NIE concluded, apparently erroneously, that Iran was an imminent threat for developing a nuclear weapon (see August 2, 2005). Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) adds, “If [the NIE is] inaccurate, it could result in very serious damage to legitimate American policy.” As late as July 2007, Sessions notes, intelligence officials testified before Congress that they believed Iran was hard at work developing a nuclear weapon. “We need to update our conclusions,” Sessions says, “but this is a substantial change.” The proposed commission would take its cue from a commission that examined a 1995 NIE on the ballistic missile threat faced by the US. [Washington Post, 12/7/2007]

Entity Tags: Jeff Sessions, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, John Ensign

Category Tags: 2007 NIE on Iran, Calls for Overthrow, Neoconservative Hawks

Republican presidential candidate Rudolph Giuliani and Weekly Standard editor William Kristol say that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program because of the 2003 invasion of Iraq (see December 3, 2007 and December 3-6, 2007). Giuliani says Iran was intimidated into halting its program: “It worked in 2003 to get him [sic] to back off their nuclear program. And what happened in 2003? What big thing happened in 2003? We deposed Saddam Hussein. America showed massive military force in the country right next to Iran called Iraq.” [ABC News, 12/7/2007] Kristol, whose magazine is one of the premier showcases for neoconservative thought and opinion, echoes Giuliani’s belief on Fox News, saying, “I believe we invaded a neighboring country in 2003 and removed their dictator and that sent shock waves through the region and at the time people were quite worried.” Kristol also attributes the end of Libya’s nuclear weapons program to the invasion of Iraq. [Think Progress, 12/9/2007] However, the reason Iran’s nuclear weapons program ended in 2003 is not specified in the recently released National Intelligence Estimate that revealed the program’s end. [Director of National Intelligence, 12/3/2007 pdf file]

Entity Tags: William Kristol, Rudolph (“Rudy”) Giuliani, Weekly Standard

Category Tags: 2007 NIE on Iran, Geopolitics, Nuclear Program, US Policy Papers, Neoconservative Hawks

Nonproliferation expert Joseph Cirincione says of the newly released National Intelligence Estimate on Iran (see December 3, 2007): “What is happening is that foreign policy has swung back to the grown-ups. We are watching the collapse of the Bush doctrine in real time. The neoconservatives are howling (see December 3-6, 2007) because they know their influence is waning.” [Guardian, 12/8/2007]

Entity Tags: Joseph Cirincione

Category Tags: 2007 NIE on Iran, Nuclear Program, Neoconservative Hawks

Former CIA analyst and National Security Council adviser Flynt Leverett, who worked in George W. Bush’s administration, praises the authors of the newly released National Intelligence Estimate on Iran (see December 3, 2007), saying: “We seem to have lucked out and have individuals who resist back-channel politics and tell it how it is. That is what the CIA and other agencies are supposed to do.” Speaking of two of the authors of the NIE, Thomas Fingar and Vann Van Diepen (see December 7, 2007), Leverett says: “They both felt the intelligence was misused in the run-up to the Iraq war. The conservatives are now attacking them, saying they are taking their revenge. It is not mutiny for intelligence officers to state their honest views.” [Guardian, 12/8/2007]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Vann Van Diepen, Thomas Fingar, Flynt Leverett

Category Tags: 2007 NIE on Iran, Nuclear Program, Neoconservative Hawks

Jon Wolfstahl.Jon Wolfstahl. [Source: Washington Note]Jon Wolfstahl, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation’s Center for Strategic and International Studies, speaks out in favor of the new National Intelligence Estimate on Iran (see December 3, 2007). Wolfstahl says: “The last thing we need is more political input into intelligence matters. The facts are the facts, and it’s time conservatives began to deal with the facts on the ground.… The days of Doug Feith and Steve Cambone creating intelligence to suit their ideology are thankfully behind us.” [Inter Press Service, 12/9/2006]

Entity Tags: Douglas Feith, Jon Wolfstahl, Stephen A. Cambone, Heritage Foundation and the Center for Strategic and International Studies

Category Tags: 2007 NIE on Iran, Nuclear Program, US Intel on Iran, Neoconservative Hawks

Eric Margolis.Eric Margolis. [Source: Eric Margolis]Toronto Sun columnist Eric Margolis calls the recent National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran the “revenge” of a “fifth column [of] America’s spooks” for being forced in 2002 and 2003 “to concoct a farrago of lies about Iraq, and then take the blame for the ensuing fiasco there.” While Margolis’s conclusions about the motives of the US intelligence community may be a bit hyperbolic, it is apparent that the NIE is, as Margolis writes, “a devastating, humiliating blow to Bush, Dick Cheney, and the neocons who have been fulminating for war against Iran.” The irony that “Iran’s leader, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was telling the truth all along when he said Iran was not working on nuclear arms, while Bush and Company were lying through their teeth, just as they have over Iraq and Afghanistan,” must be particularly galling in certain quarters of the White House.
Turning to Israel - Margolis also notes that part of the underlying message of the NIE is that the White House should rely on its own intelligence community, and not other sources, for proper information. When the White House first learned over a year ago that the US intelligence community wasn’t going to give it the conclusions it wanted on Iran, it turned instead to Israel’s Mossad, which gave Bush officials the answers they wanted. (The Mossad still says Iran will have a nuclear weapon by 2008.) Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has called the NIE report a “blow to the groin.” Israel has worked tirelessly, Margolis writes, to convince the US to destroy Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. It is less clear whether Israel will now consider performing that task on its own.
Impeachment Doubtful - Margolis writes, “This is the final disgrace for Bush and Cheney. Their war propaganda and efforts to suppress the new NIE should constitute grounds for immediate impeachment.” His argument is one that many find compelling: “If Bill Clinton could be impeached for lying about oral sex, shouldn’t Bush and Cheney face trial for attempting to lie and deceive Americans into yet another war of aggression?” Yet, he notes sourly, Congress “lacks the guts for such action.” [Toronto Sun, 12/9/2007]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Israel Institute for Intelligence and Special Tasks (Mossad), Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, George W. Bush, Ehud Barak, Eric Margolis

Category Tags: Nuclear Program, Preparation, US Intel on Iran, 2007 NIE on Iran

Israel has no “smoking gun” intelligence it can use to force the US to reassess its recent National Intelligence Estimate that concludes Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 (see December 3, 2007). But even if it did have such a piece of evidence, a diplomatic official says it would be either “very arrogant” or “naive” to think that all Israel needs to do is provide one piece of information to the US intelligence community and have it “take it all back and follow Israel’s line.” The US knows what Israel knows, the official says, but the two nations’ intelligence communities have different interpretations. “If we had information that we held back, then we have only ourselves to blame for the US report,” the official says. Israel continues to insist that Iran is a major threat to Israel, in large part because of its nuclear weapons program. “Israel can’t take the risk that Iran will be nuclear,” the official adds. [Jerusalem Post, 12/18/2007]

Category Tags: 2007 NIE on Iran, Geopolitics, Nuclear Program

Vice President Dick Cheney, on a trip to the Middle East, meets with Saudi King Abdullah on Abdullah’s horse farm for about four hours. Cheney also meets with his long-time friend, Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Nuaimi. The conversations between the men are not reported in any depth; a senior US official says the discussions are “confidential and private.” Cheney will then leave for discussions with Israeli and Palestinian leaders. [Agence France-Presse, 3/22/2008] Interestingly, after Cheney’s meeting with the Saudi leaders, the Saudi Shura Council, the governmental group that implements the decisions of the Saudi leadership, plans to secretly meet to discuss “national plans to deal with any sudden nuclear and radioactive hazards that may affect the kingdom following experts’ warnings of possible attacks on Iran’s Bushehr nuclear reactors,” according to the Saudi newspaper Okaz. A leading Saudi agency, the King Abdul-Aziz City for Science and Technology, has prepared a plan to deal with the probability of radiation hazards in case of any unexpected nuclear attacks on Iran. [Deutche Presse-Agentur, 3/22/2008] Certainly a swift and massively destructive US strike against Iran is possible. Author and military expert William Arkin wrote in 2005 that the US could strike Iranian targets within about 12 hours from the time President Bush gave the final order (see January 25, 2005). Arkin quoted Lieutenant General Bruce Carlson, commander of the 8th Air Force, as saying that his fleet of B-2 and B-52 bombers were on, essentially, perpetual alert: “We have the capacity to plan and execute global strikes,” Carlson said. He added that his forces were the US Strategic Command’s “focal point for global strike” and could execute an attack “in half a day or less.” [Washington Post, 5/15/2005] And in 2006, reporter Seymour Hersh noted that US Air Force planning groups had drawn up detailed lists of Iranian targets as part of the military’s plan to launch major air attacks against Iran. Teams of US combat troops had clandestinely entered Iran to collect targeting data and to establish contact with anti-government ethnic minority groups; US warplanes were making repeated practice “nuclear delivery” runs near the Iranian border in preparation for air strikes. [New Yorker, 4/17/2006]

Entity Tags: Shura Council, Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Ali al-Nuaimi

Category Tags: Covert/Clandestine Operations, Geopolitics, Nuclear Program, Planning, Preparation

Susan Rice, speaking at the UN.Susan Rice, speaking at the UN. [Source: Agence France-Presse]The newly named US ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, says that the Obama administration will reverse years of Bush administration policies and engage in “direct diplomacy” with Iran. Such direct diplomatic efforts have not been tried with Iran since before the 1979 Iranian revolution (see February-November 4, 1979), when Iranian radicals captured 52 Americans and held them hostage for well over a year (see November 4, 1979-January 20, 1981). [Associated Press, 1/26/2009] Israel’s Arutz Shiva calls the announcement a “not-unexpected bombshell.” [Arutz Shiva, 1/26/2009]
Iran Open to Engagement - Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki says Iran is “ready for new approaches by the United States.” Mottaki adds that Iran would consider the idea of allowing the US to open a diplomatic office in Tehran. The last US diplomatic office was closed in 1979.
US Still 'Deeply Concerned' about Iran's Nuclear Program - Rice says that Iran must meet UN Security Council demands to suspend uranium enrichment before the US will be willing to discuss its nuclear program. “The dialogue and diplomacy must go hand in hand with a very firm message from the United States and the international community that Iran needs to meet its obligations as defined by the Security Council,” Rice says. “And its continuing refusal to do so will only cause pressure to increase.” Rice says the US remains “deeply concerned about the threat that Iran’s nuclear program poses to the region, indeed to the United States and the entire international community.” She adds, “We look forward to engaging in vigorous diplomacy that includes direct diplomacy with Iran, as well as continued collaboration and partnership” with the other four permanent members of the Security Council—Britain, China, France and Russia—as well as Germany.
NATO: Iran Must Be Included in Decisions Regarding Afghanistan - NATO Secretary General Japp de Hoop Scheffer says that Iran must be part of the engagement process of escalating the war in Afghanistan. “We need a discussion that brings in all the relevant players: Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, China, Russia—and yes, Iran,” he says. “We need a pragmatic approach to solve this very real challenge.” Bush officials have long sought to isolate Iran from having any influence over the events in Afghanistan, even though its ruling Shi’ite theocracy has long opposed Afghanistan’s Taliban. [Associated Press, 1/26/2009; Arutz Shiva, 1/26/2009]
Clinton: 'New, Perhaps Different Approach' - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says: “Obviously, the incoming administration views with great concern the role that Iran is playing in the world, its sponsorship of terrorism, its continuing interference with the functioning of other governments, and its pursuit of nuclear weapons. There is an ongoing policy review that the Obama administration has undertaken, but… our goal will be to do everything we can, pursue through diplomacy, through the use of sanctions, through creating better coalitions with countries that we believe also have a big stake in preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear weapon power, to try to prevent this from occurring. We are not taking any option off the table, at all. But we will pursue a new, perhaps different approach that will become a cornerstone of what the Obama administration believes is an attitude towards engagement that might bear fruit.” She says that the US continues to view an Iranian nuclear program as “unacceptable.” [Arutz Shiva, 1/26/2009]

Entity Tags: Hillary Clinton, Arutz Shiva, Bush administration (43), Japp de Hoop Scheffer, Manouchehr Mottaki, Susan Rice, United Nations, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Obama administration

Category Tags: Diplomacy, Geopolitics

Admiral Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says that Iran most likely has enough fissile material to make a nuclear weapon. When asked by CNN’s John King whether Iran “might now have enough fissile material to make a bomb,” Mullen replies, “We think they do, quite frankly.” He adds, “Iran having a nuclear weapon, I believe, for a long time, is a very, very bad outcome for the region and for the world.” A spokesman for Mullen later “clarifies” his remarks to emphasize that Mullen was talking about “low-grade” material, and notes that for such to be used in a nuclear weapon, it would need to be highly enriched. Defense Secretary Robert Gates contradicts Mullen, saying that Iran is “not close to a weapon at this point” (see March 1, 2009), a point with which both the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair, agree. After Mullen’s interview, his spokesman, Captain John Kirby, tells CNN: “There are two components here: having enough and having it highly enriched. The chairman concurs Iran has enough low-enriched to produce a nuclear weapon, but it’s important to note it’s low-grade, and to enrich it would take time.” Iran has recently tested its first nuclear power plant, using dummy fuel rods that did not produce a nuclear reaction. [CNN, 3/1/2009]

Entity Tags: John King, Dennis C. Blair, International Atomic Energy Agency, Robert M. Gates, John Kirby, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Michael Mullen

Category Tags: Diplomacy, Nuclear Program

Defense Secretary Robert Gates says that Iran is not close to having a nuclear weapon, which gives the US and other nations time to persuade Tehran to abandon its suspected nuclear weapons program. Gates tells NBC’s David Gregory, “They’re not close to a stockpile, they’re not close to a weapon at this point, and so there is some time.” Gates’s statement contradicts a recent warning from Admiral Michael Mullen, the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who told a CNN audience that he believes Iran has enough fissile material to build a nuclear bomb (see March 1, 2009). Tehran insists that its nuclear program is strictly about producing electricity for peaceful purposes. Gates says there is “a continuing focus on how do you get the Iranians to walk away from a nuclear weapons program” in the Obama administration, just as had been in the Bush administration. Obama officials have called Tehran’s nuclear development program an “urgent problem,” and have said they favor a balance between economic sanctions and incentives for engagement. [Reuters, 3/1/2009]

Entity Tags: David Gregory, Bush administration (43), Robert M. Gates, Michael Mullen, Obama administration

Category Tags: Diplomacy, Nuclear Program

Dennis Blair, the director of national intelligence, tells the Senate Armed Services Committee that the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate for Iran, and its conclusion that Iran abandoned its nuclear weapons program in 2003, is still valid (see December 3, 2007). Administration officials have issued contradictory opinions in the days before Blair’s testimony (see March 1, 2009 and March 1, 2009). Committee chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) asks Blair: “In 2007, the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran said that ‘the intelligence community judges with high confidence that in the fall of 2003 Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.’ Is the position of the intelligence community the same as it was back in October of ‘07? Has that changed?” Blair answers: “Mr. Chairman, the nuclear weapons program is one of the three components required for deliverable system, including the delivery system and the uranium. But as for the nuclear weapons program, the current position is the same, that Iran has stopped its nuclear weapons design and weaponization activities in 2003 and did not—has not started them again, at least as of mid-2007.” [Think Progress, 3/10/2009]

Entity Tags: Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin, Dennis C. Blair

Category Tags: Nuclear Program

For the first time in 30 years, an Iranian diplomat meets for informal discussions with officials from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Senior NATO negotiator Martin Erdmann will later confirm that he has met with Iran’s ambassador to the European Union, Ali-Asghar Khaji. “This is another good step in engaging Iran in the international community,” Erdmann will say. NATO will confirm the discussion, and will say the main focus of the talks is the situation in Afghanistan. Iran will confirm its planned participation in US-backed talks on Afghanistan to take place at The Hague. NATO spokesman James Appathurai will say of Iran’s participation in those talks, “The fact that Iran has decided to go is good news and constitutes a new step.” The US State Department will welcome Iran’s contacts with NATO. The Iranian contact follows a recent message sent by President Obama to the government and people of Iran (see March 19, 2009). [BBC, 3/27/2009]

Entity Tags: US Department of State, Ali-Asghar Khaji, James Appathurai, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Martin Erdmann

Category Tags: Diplomacy, Geopolitics

President Barack Obama releases a video message directed at Iran. The White House sends the message to commemorate the Iranian holiday of Nowruz, or “New Day,” the Iranian New Year. Obama begins by lauding the history and culture of the Iranian people. He acknowledges that the US and Iran continue to have strained and difficult relations, but says, “[A]t this holiday we are reminded of the common humanity that binds us together.” Obama promises that the US will work to build a strong relationship through honest, respectful diplomacy. To Iran’s governmental leaders, he says: “You, too, have a choice. The United States wants the Islamic Republic of Iran to take its rightful place in the community of nations. You have that right—but it comes with real responsibilities, and that place cannot be reached through terror or arms, but rather through peaceful actions that demonstrate the true greatness of the Iranian people and civilization. And the measure of that greatness is not the capacity to destroy, it is your demonstrated ability to build and create.” He concludes by quoting a famous Iranian poet and giving holiday greetings in Farsi: “I know that this won’t be reached easily. There are those who insist that we be defined by our differences. But let us remember the words that were written by the poet Saadi, so many years ago: ‘The children of Adam are limbs to each other, having been created of one essence.’ With the coming of a new season, we’re reminded of this precious humanity that we all share. And we can once again call upon this spirit as we seek the promise of a new beginning. Thank you, and Eid-eh Shoma Mobarak [Happy New Year].” [White House, 3/19/2009; White House, 3/19/2009; Washington Post, 3/20/2009]
'Groundbreaking' Message May Force Iranian Hardliners to Give Ground - Reaction to the message is mixed. The New York Times calls the message “groundbreaking,” and notes that Obama’s use of the proper name of the country—“The Islamic Republic of Iran”—acknowledges the nation’s theological governance in a respectful manner not done by members of the Bush administration and, the Washington Post observes, “signaling an apparent break from President George W. Bush’s unstated promotion of a change of leadership.” Martin Indyk, a former US ambassador to Israel, says of the message: “That wording is designed to demonstrate acceptance of the government of Iran. The message is dripping with sincerity and directly addresses one of the things they are most concerned about.” Iranian officials acknowledge the message, but say that Obama’s actions must live up to his words, and past grievances, such as the US 1988 downing of an Iranian airliner, must be redressed. A senior government official, Ali Akbar Javanfekr, says: “This cannot only be done by us, we cannot simply forget what the US did to our nation. They need to perceive what wrong orientation they had and make serious efforts to make up for it.” A former Iranian ambassador to France, Sadegh Kharrazi, says: “Obama had no practical suggestion that we can work with. This is a lost opportunity.” But Iranian-American expert Karim Sadjadpour says that Obama’s message will force the Iranian government to, in the words of the Times, “put up or shut up on prospects for better relations with the United States.” Sadjadpour says: “What this message does is, it puts the hard-liners in a difficult position, because where the Bush administration united disparate Iranian political leaders against a common threat, what Obama is doing is accentuating the cleavages in Iran. It makes the hard-liners look increasingly like they are the impediment.” [New York Times, 3/20/2009; Washington Post, 3/20/2009]
Neoconservative: Obama 'Kowtowing' to Iranian Government - Neoconservative William Kristol deplores the message, calling it little more than a “message of weakness” and criticizing Obama for not calling on the Iranian government to emphasize “liberty,” “freedom,” “democracy,” and “human rights.” Kristol writes, “[W]hat’s distinctive about Obama’s statement is his respect for the ‘leaders,’ the clerical dictatorship,” to whom Obama is “kowtowing.” Kristol deplores Obama’s failure to echo the Bush administration’s call for regime change in Iran, and criticizes Obama’s failure to call for an end to Iran’s nuclear program. “Obama doesn’t believe in threats,” Kristol writes. “He believes that we should speak nicely to our enemies, and carry no stick.” [Weekly Standard, 3/30/2009]

Entity Tags: New York Times, Ali Akbar Javanfekr, Barack Obama, Martin Indyk, William Kristol, Karim Sadjadpour, Washington Post, Sadegh Kharrazi, Obama administration

Category Tags: Key Events, Diplomacy, Geopolitics, Neoconservative Hawks

Israeli President Shimon Peres issues a special message to the Iranian people, in time to commemorate the Iranian holiday of Nowruz. Peres sends his message just minutes after US President Obama sent his own video message to Iran (see March 19, 2009). Unlike Obama, Peres refuses to address the Iranian government, but issues his message directly to the Iranian people, and adopts a far less conciliatory tone than the American leader. He tells the Iranians: “Unfortunately, the relations between our two countries have hit a low point, stemming from ideas that compel your leaders to act in every possible way against the state of Israel and its people. But I am convinced that the day is not far off when our two nations will restore good neighborly relations and cooperation in thriving in every way.” Peres continues: “Things in Iran are tough. There is great unemployment, corruption, a lot of drugs, and a general discontent? You can’t feed your children enriched uranium, they need a real breakfast. It cannot be that the money is invested in enriched uranium and the children are told to remain a little hungry, a little ignorant. [I suggest] you don’t listen to [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad, it is impossible to preserve a whole nation on incitement and hatred, the people will become tired of it.… I see the suffering of the children and ask myself, why? [Iran] is such a rich country with such a rich culture, why do they allow a handful of religious fanatics take the worst possible path, both in the eyes of God and in the eyes of man?” Peres then encourages the Iranian people to overthrow their own government: “It is impossible to preserve a whole nation on incitement and hatred. I think that the Iranian people will topple these leaders, these leaders who don’t serve the people—in the end the people will realize that.” Some of Peres’s message is recorded in Farsi, and the message is broadcast on Israel’s Radio Farsi, which has a large audience in the Middle East. [Washington Post, 3/20/2009; Ha'aretz, 3/21/2009] The neoconservatives of the Weekly Standard applaud Peres’s speech, writing, “Now that’s how a president should be speaking to the prisoners of the Mullahcracy.” [Weekly Standard, 3/20/2009]

Entity Tags: Weekly Standard, Shimon Peres, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Category Tags: Calls for Overthrow, Geopolitics, Israel, Neoconservative Hawks

US presidential envoy Richard Holbrooke meets briefly and informally with Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammed Mehdi Akhondzadeh. Holbrooke, the Obama administration’s special representatative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Akhondzadeh are participants in a major international conference at The Hague convened to discuss the problem of Afghanistan. The two talk briefly during a lunch break. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will say of the meeting: “It was cordial, unplanned, and they agreed to stay in touch. I myself did not have any direct contact with the Iranian delegation.” Clinton says the US has asked the Iranian delegation to intercede in the cases of two American citizens being detained in Iran and a third who is missing. The New York Times calls the two contacts “another step in the Obama administration’s policy of engagement… a tentative process, in which the White House makes symbolic gestures, like President Obama’s recent video greeting to the Iranian people and government for their New Year (see March 19, 2009), while continuing to formulate its longer-term strategy.” Some experts believe that the meeting between Holbrooke and Akhondzadeh is not entirely fortuitous, but is the product of some planning. In the conference, Akhondzadeh says Iran will help reconstruction in Afghanistan as well as take part in efforts to curb the exploding Afghan drug trade. “The fact that they came today, that they intervened today, is a promising sign that there will be future cooperation,” Clinton says. “The Iranian representative set forth some very clear ideas that we will all be pursuing together.” The US and Iran have mutual interests in curbing Afghanistan’s drug trade, Clinton says: “The questions of border security, and in particular the transit of narcotics across the border from Afghanistan to Iran is a worry that the Iranians have, which we share.” [New York Times, 3/31/2009]

Entity Tags: Mohammed Mehdi Akhondzadeh, Hillary Clinton, Obama administration, Richard Holbrooke

Category Tags: Diplomacy

Federal prosecutors drop all charges against two former lobbyists accused of passing classified information to Israel (see August 4, 2005). The lobbyists, Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, worked for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) when they took classified information from former government official Larry Franklin and passed it to Israeli officials (see April 13, 1999-2004 and October 5, 2005). The case against Rosen and Weissman had the potential to criminalize the exchange of classified information among journalists, lobbyists, and ordinary citizens not bound by government restrictions. “Thank God we live in a country where you can defend yourself against an injustice like this,” says Rosen. He calls the case an example of government officials “who have an obsession with leaks (see May 21, 2006)… and an obsession with Israel and the theory that it spies on America.” The lawyers for the two former lobbyists believe that Obama administration officials had reservations about the case where their predecessors in the Bush administration did not, but former FBI counterintelligence official David Szady says that politics played no part in the decision to withdraw the charges. Prosecutors say that recent court rulings would make winning their case much more difficult than they had previously anticipated. Gary Wasserman, a Georgetown University professor who is writing a book about the case, says it is understandable that AIPAC welcomes the dismissal. A trial, he says, “would have provoked a lot of public discussion about how they worked.” [Washington Post, 5/2/2009]

Entity Tags: David Szady, American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Bush administration (43), Steven Rosen, Obama administration, Keith Weissman, Larry Franklin, Gary Wasserman

Category Tags: Geopolitics, Israel, Neoconservative Hawks

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